Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Veel Geluk: An Introduction to Dutch Death Records

It's been a while since I have posted anything about anything on this blog, I believe the end of October was the last time. As I near the completion of my MLS degree from the University at Buffalo, my time has been a little scarce. However, I hope that I will be able to continue with posting as I near closer to summer.

For the last month, I have been working on my family tree file, linking citations to the different people, something I didn't do in the past. I want to say that it's been a pain in the arse, however it's opened the door to new information, new sources and new family members. One particular line that I have been able to expand upon is the family of my Great Grandmother, Frances Amelia Bowen. On the 31st of October 1914, she married my Great Grandfather George H. Ballard in Brockport, NY. The most interesting bit of information regarding Frances, in my opinion, lies with her mother and father.

Frances was the product of a couple who were both in their second marriage. Her father was Isaac Bowen, as I was introduced to him, a Dutch immigrant who first married a woman by the name Lucy Green. Lucy fancied needlepoint, a hobby which led to her eventual death in 1895. How, you may ask? Having pricked her finger, she developed gangrene which required the removal of part of her finger. As the condition progressed, more of the finger, hand and arm required removal. Frances' mother, Mary Simpson, was married to a Canadian cobbler of German descent by the name of Stephen Stoneburg, who died from consumption in the early 1890s. Mary immigrated to the United States with her children in 1895, met Isaac and married in 1896. Even more interesting are their roots. Isaac was a new Dutch immigrant, Mary's family was not. However, my previous thoughts of Mary as an Irish or English immigrant to Canada were wrong. In fact, Mary's ancestors were Loyalist during the American Revolution who sought asylum and received land grants along the northern shore of Lake Ontario for their service to the crown. Mary's mother's family was Dutch; New Amsterdam Dutch.

It turns out that Isaac Bowen was not Isaac Bowen at all, instead he was Isaac Bowens. Before that, he was Isaac Bouwens and before that, he was Izaak Bouwens. Following the traditions of Americanization and simple misspellings, Izaak became Isaac; American. Izaak, as I will now refer to him, arrived in the United States on the 2nd of June 1857 aboard the Arnold Boninger of Prussia with his father Adriaan Bouwens, his mother Abigail, brother Morris and sister Frances. However, Izaak was not Izaak but instead Adriaan as well. This reason behind this became apparent later in my research.

Izaak and his family all had records which were produced at Castle Garden upon their entrance into the United States, all stating that Groede was their last known residence. As with my Polish research, Groede is a rather easy search in Google compared to those of Polish towns. Groede is located in Zeeland, Netherlands. As I later found out, the Netherlands has made many of their records, specifically Civil Registers, available through online database that can be searched in English and Dutch. To make things even better, Familysearch.org has those same registers in digital form, AND FREE!!!

Now, I am a beginner and the farthest thing from an expert, but I wasn't able to locate much help for records outside of Family Search's Dutch language articles. I am at the point where I can afford to do some research but not to pay someone to locate and transcribe these records. I know from experience that many records contain fluff for bureaucratic reasons and I am a fond believe that the most important information can be pulled from these records by someone with absolutely no experience with the language. Of course having that experience does make things easier :) When typical transcribers/translators charge upwards of $50-$100 per hour, these sorts of services are financially feasible for someone on a budget like mine.

Because Family Search has not had any large scale indexers to cover the Dutch Civil Registers, you have to search the images yourself, the old fashioned way. Don't fret though! The Genlias Database http://www.genlias.nl website, produced by the Archives of the Netherlands will allow you to search for names and records, which also list the record number for the even. You can cross reference these and sift for the records which ends up being rather easy, and I'll show you why in a second.

So, the topic of this post was to cover Death Registers. As with any other foreign records, the further you progress through time, the more standard the records become and typically the more information they contain. This isn't an exact science, results do vary. However, I was sifting through death records for the Town of Nieuwvliet in Oostburg, Netherlands for records relating to the death of my 5th Great Grandparents. Much to my delight, I located this record:


This particular record is for my 5th Great Grandmother, Magdalena Cagnet Smoor, who has also been found under the name Magdalena Caiquet. The records appear very daunting, but combined with a common words list through Family Search, the task becomes a little easier. So I draw your attention to the following image which highlights a few key points. You'll likely have to click to enlarge the image in order to see the highlighted points.


The area in red shows the name. In many of the records, the person for whom the record is created is located along the left side of the record. The far left column denotes the month in which the event occured. Typically, either at the beginning or end of the year, there is an alphabetical list of names for that year. Often they are at the end of the year, which I have found helpful to comb over after sifting through the year to ensure I didn't miss a name.

The area in green shows the date and time of the event. The date is recorded as Day-Month-Year, almost always. One key point to watch for are roman numerals and numeral values that don't make sense as a four digit year. This particular record has "achtste" as the year, which means "8th" in Dutch. You'd also notice that "Ventose" is not a month. Due to the heightened French involvement in Dutch affairs following the French Revolution, there is the implementation of the French Republican Calendar, which is typically seen in Dutch records from approximately 1790 to 1805/6. The shift from the Republican Calendar to the Gregorian is sudden; you'll notice it. So, for the purpose of conversion, try http://stevemorse.org/jcal/french.html. There, on the bottom line, you can plug in (from left to right) the year, month and day in the Republican form and the Gregorian date will appear in the middle. Give it a shot, if you plug in the date from the record which is "17th Ventrose 8th Year of the French Republic" on the bottom line as "8 Ventrose 17" you should retrieve the date 08 March 1800 on the middle line. Search Google for the French Republic Calendar, you'll find a better explanation of the calendar than I could ever provide.

Finally, the orange area shows the "informant" for the event. Typically the records contain two additional people who report the event to the municipal official. It lists their name, occupation, residence, age and relation to the deceased (if any). In this case, the first informant is Adriaan Bouwens, my 4th Great Grandfather, who is listed as a "zoon" or son of the deceased (he was in fact the son-in-law). Below that, the record will list other relations as fit. This record also lists Marinus Smoor, "Bakker" or Baker as Magdalena's "vrouw," or wife. This also helps to indicate that her husband is still living at the time of her death as widow or widower would be in place of wife or husband in the case of a predeceased spouse.

So there's a little bit on Dutch death records. Again, I'm not an expert, but I hope that every little bit helps, especially a beginner's perspective.